7/6/06

Clarification on Sci-Fi

This was posted over on latterdayauthors.com. Yes, I frequently lurk there, among several other places. But I can't post there because you have to register first and I'm shy and want to stay in the shadows. :) So someone who reads this, go over there to Melanie Goldman's topic under Member Bios, and tell her I'm talking about her comments over here. Please.

According to the wise woman behind LDS Publisher, [Melanie is so intelligent and perceptive. She's my new best friend!] "mixing speculative fiction with LDS culture ... is highly offensive to many readers ... [and she doesn't know of a] single publisher who would touch it with a ten-foot pole."

Since I was planning to write a variation of the "Zoram" story from the Book of Mormon on a different world and including a huge spaceship, in the way that Orson Scott Card wrote a variation of the "Nephi" story in his Homecoming series on a different world and including a huge spaceship, I think it's pretty safe to say that I don't stand a chance.

Stephanie Black also asked her editor at Covenant, and got a very discouraging answer.

Actually, the more I read that blog, the more I'm tempted to take up her idea of baptizing a vampire family. Could be funny, seeing them doing the refreshments at a church activity, or how nobody wants to visit teach them, because they're afraid that they might be asked to provide a little red snack. But no ... better not. I don't want people coming after me with pitchforks and torches.


Let me clarify a few things. First, let's not mix apples and oranges. There are several distinct areas that are all getting lumped together under the category of LDS Speculative Fiction:

1. There is fiction written by LDS authors but have nothing else to do with the LDS culture (Orson Scott Card, Anne Perry, Shannon Hale, etc.)

2. There is national fiction that mirrors LDS teachings but non-LDS readers would not recognize it as such (Card's Homecoming & Alvin Maker series).

3. There is national fiction published by LDS authors in which LDS culture is referenced, but not a main focus (Card's Lost Boys--I think the family is LDS, but it's been awhile since I've read it)

4. There is fiction published by LDS publishers and sold mainly to LDS audiences but that does not include direct references to LDS lifestyle, membership or theology (Leven Thumps).

5. There is fiction where LDS culture and theology is a major focus (The Believer; also Card's Folk of the Fringe collection of short stories, several of which I found very fascinating).

6. Then there is fiction where LDS culture and theology is mixed together with fantasy devices and sci-fi events that are in direct contrast with LDS core principles and teaching.

All of these are lumped into one big category: LDS speculative fiction. What I say about one of these areas does not always apply to the others.

For example, Stephanie Black's The Believer is wonderful. I really enjoyed it. It wasn't hard core sci-fi, but it was futuristic and speculative. If Covenant dropped her, I'd snap her up in a heartbeat--assuming of course, that I don't already work for Covenant, in which case I'd throw an absolute fit if they dropped that series.

I also personally enjoyed Scott Card's Homecoming series (although I felt the quality of the writing and the storyline lacked somewhat once they left their planet and headed back to "home." Also, I think the little creatures fighting each other was done to death in his Ender series and I'm tired of it already.) And I really liked his Alvin Maker series. He wasn't rewriting the Book of Mormon and he wasn't doing a biography of Joseph Smith. He started with some basics and let his imagination take it from there to spin an entirely different story. I know some LDS readers who were offended by this, but I wasn't. (The sex and violence bothered me, but the fact that he started with "Joseph Smith" did not. If Card offered me that series, I'd have to turn it down unless he toned it down.)

I think there is a market for good, solid speculative novels written in a way that supports LDS values and beliefs, but that do not neccessarily contain direct references to LDS culture and theology. I, as an LDS pubisher, WOULD be very interested in seeing some of those. But the story has to be compelling and very well written.

A story loosely based on Zoram's experience, but set on a different planet, in a different universe would be fine. But a story about Zoram (his literal self) going to a different planet, or Zoram (his literal self) being told by little green aliens that one night soon he would meet a man who would offer to take him from Jerusalem and that Zoram should follow him, and then voila, 48 hours later Zoram (his literal self) meets up with Nephi (his literal self)--no. No! NO!!

But then there are some gray areas--like Pitch #5 posted as part of my contest. I haven't decided how I feel about that yet. The sci-fi fan in me would like to take a look at it. The publisher who needs to run a profitable company is highly skeptical. In this gray area would also fall stories about missionaries sent to other planets, or a "Left Behind" type of story using LDS theology, or a variety of other speculative themes and plots. A lot would depend on how it was handled. I would take a look at it, but it would have to have a killer plot and substantive writing for me to take the risk of publishing it.

What I absolutely am NOT interested in are stories where the power of the gospel and other sacred things are minimized by fantastical devices or science. For example, time travel where modern day kids make sure the gospel stays on track. To me, that says God isn't powerful enough to run His on business. I also will not entertain a bishop or RS president who uses magic, or anyone who dabbles in anything bordering on the occult as a way of living the gospel. I also will not look at Primary children who make all their problems go away by ...whatever. Can't think of an example right now, but you get the idea.

Now, would I be interested in a newly baptised vampire family, written entirely tongue in cheek and purely for entertainment? Personally, uhm, I probably would. Professionally, I just don't know. I guess I'd have to make that decision when and if it ever shows up in my slush pile.

Anyway, the point of this whole thing is to say that I agree with Karlene and Stephanie (other posters in that topic string). I think there is a market out there and I'd like to support it because I am a huge sci-fi/fantasy fan and the number of authors I can trust to write a compelling, yet clean, story line is rapidly diminishing. It's only a matter of time before LDS readers start demanding this genre of the LDS publishers, the same way that they've demanded clean LDS romance novels.

So, if you write LDS speculative fiction--if that's where your heart is, WRITE IT. The readers will come...

3 comments:

Karen Hoover said...

Thank you for saying this. I don't remember a time my heart hasn't been with speculative fiction. I've got a story out right now being reviewed by an LDS Publisher and it's been a big worry for me as to whether it even stands a chance in the LDS market, but I felt really strongly about sending it where I did. I've felt that the great reception of Leven Thumps is a big indicator that the LDS readers are begging for good, clean speculative fiction. I know I am. So thank you for voicing the things that have been in my heart and wasn't brave enough to acknowledge. You've given me hope once more. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

Hello, new best friend! :D

This was the first thing I clicked on this morning, and what a pleasant surprise!

After reading over your blog several times, I feel that one part of me wants to do the Happy Snoopy Dance while singing "There's hope, there's hope," but the other part of me is looking at the paragraph starting with "But then there are some gray areas ..." and saying "Wait and see, wait and see."

So, while I'm working on my killer plot and compelling writing, let me ask another question.

What does your publisher's gut instinct say about miracles happening against a technological backdrop? I'm talking the occasional big miracle here, like instant healing, someone being raised from the dead, or having the technical plans of an advanced spaceship being revealed one piece at a time to an entire team of people, while other people have been called to assemble the spaceship? No magic, no occult, no vampires, just religious people exercising their faith and being blessed for it -- on another planet.

Thanks!
Melanie

Stephanie Black said...

To LDS Publisher--

I love your blog and read it all the time--and I particularly enjoyed this post! Thanks so much for your kind words!

And I love all this discussion of LDS sci fi.

Karen and Melanie, I want to read your books!